But as it does each season the time has come. With a 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh March 7, the third game for Randy Carlyle behind the bench, his second loss, it seems like a Fait accompli. They had a 2-0 lead at a crucial, crucial time in their season and did not hold it. The effort had to be there but when the goals were scored, it didn't look it. Their season has taken on the qualities of a lame horse. It's over.
Toronto Maple Leafs: is it fate?
They're not out of it simply because they're 5 back points back of the eight and final playoff spot. Nor simply because they're in 12th and have so many teams to pass, either. Or even because there is really only one spot up for grabs and five teams fighting for it (seven if you add the Islanders and Carolina, just two points back of Toronto).
No - it's their fate. That's what it is. Every season they find different ways to drop out of the playoff race but always they manage it. Sometimes early, sometimes in the middle of the year. This time it's at the end that the killer slump has come: 2-11-1 in their last 14. Nothing like grabbing but 5 points out of a possible 28 as you head into the stretch to knock you out of contention.
No Postseason: the 7 year itch
This franchise once battled the Montreal Canadiens for hockey supremacy but has now fallen by the hockey rink wayside. It is as if there's a curse. Change coaches, GM's, goalies, superstars, bring in Borje Salming, Doug Gilmour, Cujo, Mats Sundin, Brian Leetch, Ed Belfour, Pat Quinn, Brian Burke, Phil Kessel, it's all the same. Missed opportunities and missed playoffs.
They haven't made it back to the final since their last Cup in 1967. The Vancouver Canucks have been there three times and even the Florida Panthers and L.A. Kings have each been there. The Carolina Hurricanes have been twice and won it once, ditto the Calgary Flames. The Edmonton Oilers were 12 years away from existing when Toronto last won and yet the Oilers have won the Cup five times.
The Toronto Maple Leafs in the Playoffs
It's been seven seasons since there's even been a playoff game at the Air Canada Centre. What would it be like if they made it? The blue and the white uniform - it's a nice uniform - worn in meaningful games in April and beyond? It would be grand but something keeps getting in the way and we might as well call it fate as anything else.
There is, as the cliche goes, next year. Carlyle, Nazem Kadri will be ready, maybe Carter Ashton, Reimer will get his game back and so will Luke Schenn; Joe Colbourne might make it, he looks ready. And perhaps that deal for Rick Nash will finally happen. Next year.
Unless, of course, fate gets in the way.